Presented below is a review of the literature investigating the characteristics of Web-based instruction and the steps necessary to develop a questionnaire based on psychometric principles. The characteristics of Web-based instruction proposed by Driscoll (1998) and Khan (1997) guided the literature review. Driscoll (1998) listed several principles of effective Web-based training such as multimedia (e.g., text, graphics, video, sound, and animation), easy-to-use graphic user interface (e.g., hyperlinks and navigation), attention to educational details (e.g., clear guidance and direction for each lesson clear objectives, adequate practice, and meaningful feedback), attention to technical details (e.g., free of "bugs" and the links to other Web sites work), and interaction.
The components of Web-based instruction suggested by Khan (1997) were similar to the principles proposed by Driscoll (1998), but also included synchronous and asynchronous communications tools, search engines, Web browsers, plug-ins, modems, Internet service providers, computers, and Web servers. Six dimensions of Web-based instruction were also identified through the opinions of students and instructors in Web-based mathematics courses. They closely matched the principles and components of Web-based instruction as proposed by Driscoll (1998) and Khan (1997). Specifically, these dimensions were: (a) the appearance and structure of Web pages, (b) hyperlinks and navigation, (c) technical issues, (d) class procedures and expectations, (e) instruction, and (f) interaction.
In light of the dimensions identified through the opinions of students and instructors in Web-based mathematics courses and the components of Web-based instruction suggested by Driscoll (1998) and Khan (1997), the following was used as the overarching framework for this literature review:
Tools facilitating Web-based instruction, such as media (print, video, audio, images, and animations), synchronous and asynchronous communication software, Web browsers, search engines, plug-ins, computers, connections (e.g., dial-up modems, networks), Internet service providers, and Web servers.
Instruction, such as content delivery, class procedures, and content-media fit.
Interaction between the learner and the instructor and among learners.
Care was taken during the review of the literature to allow for dimensions and items to emerge that were not suggested by Driscoll (1998) and Khan (1997) nor identified by Stewart (1999). As the documents were examined, their reference lists were used in search of more items and additional dimensions. Also, since the focus of the current study was on Web-based course evaluation, a fourth section entitled "instrument development", was also included.
Tools Facilitating Web-Based Instruction
In the current study, the tools facilitating Web-based instruction consisted of media (print, video, audio, images, and animations), synchronous and asynchronous communication software, Web browsers, search engines, plug-ins, computers, connections (e.g., dial-up modems, networks), Internet service providers, and Web servers. A discussion of these tools was deemed necessary since inadequate design or setup of these tools may cause confusion and frustration for students. Additionally, it may affect their perceptions about the content of a Web site or provoke feelings of being lost in cyberspace (e.g., Borges et al., 1998; Nielsen, 2000; Ratner, 1998). This, in turn, can negatively affect effective learning and information retention (e.g., Darke, 1988a; Darke, 1988b; Jonassen & Grabowski, 1993; Kruse & Keil, 2000; Ratner, 1998; Reber, 1985; Sheets, 1992; Wiebe & Howe, 1998).
Web-based instruction might make use of a combination of printed materials, static images, animation, audio presentations, or full-motion video. A special type of media is included in this category, namely the Web page, which is a display of any information in text or picture form, static or dynamic on the World Wide Web. A Web page usually contains hyperlinks to other Web pages. Additionally, each Web page has its own Web address, called a Uniform Resource Locator (URL).
Web pages. Design guidelines for Web pages are constantly revised based on user experiences, though data are often not empirically derived (Nielsen, 2000; Shneiderman, 1998; Vora, 1998). As a matter of fact, Shneiderman (1998) claimed that "it may take a decade until sufficient experience, experimentation, and hypothesis testing clarify [Web page] design issues" (p. 561). A few researchers, however, have begun to show in a more scientific manner what does and does not promote user satisfaction with Web pages (e.g., Borges et al., 1998; Grose et al., 1998; Kanerva, Keeker, Risden, Schuh, & Czerwinski, 1998; Nielsen, 2000; Pacheco, Day, Cribelli, Jordan, Murry, & Persichitte, 1999; Van Rennes & Collis, 1998; Vora, 1998).
For example, in an effort to improve Web page usability and thus task satisfaction, Grose et al. (1998) combined existing Web page design guidelines and software development guidelines. Subsequently, these items were scored on eight criteria (practicality, verifiability, recognition, criticality, relevance, occurrence, clarity, and constraint) to reduce them in number. Then the researchers presented the remaining guidelines for an extensive review and refinement to human factors practitioners (i.e., professionals trained in the field of human-computer interaction). This effort resulted in a set of guidelines applicable to all Web pages, which were supported and extended by other human factors practitioners and university researchers (e.g., Borges et al., 1998; Grose et al., 1998; Kanerva et al., 1998; Laux, 1998; Nielsen, 2000; Pacheco et al., 1999; Van Rennes & Collis, 1998; Vora, 1998). See Appendix A for a complete list of Web page design guidelines gleaned from the literature.
Vora (1998), Kanerva et al. (1998), and Nielsen (2000) drafted most of their Web page design guidelines in Web usability laboratories through observations of Web users' behavior. Borges et al. (1998), on the other hand, evaluated a sample of ten university and college Web sites from a pool of more than 1000 using the three heuristics of aesthetic and minimalist design, match between system and the real world, and consistency and standards. They tested their guidelines by first asking designers to revise three home pages using the new guidelines, and then observing ten users perform five task involving the original and revised home pages. The results indicated that the average time to perform the tasks was significantly reduced on the revised home page. This, in turn, can reduce user frustrations and encourage exploration (Borges et al., 1998).
Other researchers assessed students' perception of the usability of Web sites through interviews or questionnaires (e.g., Hindes, 1999; Mory et al., 1998; Pacheco et al., 1999; Schlough & Bhuripanyo, 1998; Van Rennes & Collis, 1998; Ward, 1999). In particular, the efforts of Van Rennes and Collis (1998) and Pacheco et al. (1999) resulted in useful guidelines.
Static images. One of the appealing characteristics of the WWW is its capability to display both text and images. However, it is exactly this flexibility that might make the viewing of Web pages inefficient or frustrating (Omanson, Lew, & Schuhmacher, 1998). For example, images should be pleasing to the eye and not overwhelm the viewer (Vora, 1998). They should also be displayed with a text HTML tag, the "alt" tag, so that they are decipherable by screen readers used by vision-impaired users (Laux, 1998).
Furthermore, to alleviate user frustration, the number of large image files attached to a Web page should be restricted to the ones most pertinent to the content of the Web page because of the long download time that they require (Nielsen, 2000; Vora, 1998). If, however, a sizable number of large image files become necessary to explain the content of a Web page, high quality hyperlinked thumbnails for speedy downloads of pertinent images should be provided. This avoids a lengthy download of all images and gives the user a choice to view one full-size image at a time.
When contemplating the use of three-dimensional images, Web designers should be aware of the fact that travel through a primarily three-dimensional Web site can become extremely confusing to users, thus cause disorientation and a feeling of being lost in hyperspace (Nielsen, 2000). However, 3D images can also be helpful, especially when users need to understand objects in their solid form (Nielsen, 2000). For example, individuals who may benefit from three-dimensional images might include biology students trying to identify an organ in the human body, engineering students designing a widget, or chemistry students investigating the shape of a molecule.
Animations. Like still images, complex animated images can also require a lengthy download time. Furthermore, Web animations significantly affect human peripheral vision, thus dominating the user's awareness (Nielsen, 2000). For example, it is quite difficult to concentrate on reading the content of a Web page if there is a moving image in the peripheral field of vision. Nielsen (2000) claimed that during his Web usability studies most users seemed annoyed by animations, particularly with moving, blinking, or zooming text.
While Nielsen (2000), in general, does not recommend the use of animations, he conceded that some animations do serve a useful purpose. For example, animations might be used to illustrate transitions between two or more altered states of a still image to allow visualization of three-dimensional structures on two-dimensional computer screens, or to attract attention to new or important items (Nielsen, 2000; Wiebe & Howe, 1998). Anglin, Towers, and Levie (1996) identified several other important uses for animations, such as: (a) to guide and direct the viewer's attention; (b) to model complex systems (e.g., blood flowing through the heart); and (c) to allow for understanding of abstract processes (e.g., velocity). But even in these cases, experts strongly recommended one-time animations or animations on demand instead of continuous movement (e.g., Nielsen, 2000; Wiebe & Howe, 1998).
Web-based audio and video presentations. According to Johnson (1998), there is a lack of a theoretical framework and applicable empirical research to guide the development of Web-based video materials. He stated that the available literature consists mostly of recommendations and guidelines stemming from direct user trials and classroom experiences. This also seemed to be the case for audio presentations.
Download time seemed to be the major concern associated with audio and video presentation, but quality was a close second. For example, to facilitate faster and easier retrieval times of video clips over the Internet, the number of frames per second is usually reduced. However, with reduced frame size poor quality of motion and sound becomes a distinct possibility rendering video clips intending to display rapid movement (e.g., running horse) or close-ups of a complex object (e.g., sculpture) quite useless (Johnson, 1998).
With regard to audio presentations, file size reduction might not only make it more difficult to hear sounds appropriately, but it might also make it harder to evaluate any accompanying text, graphics, or video (Nielsen, 2000). In one study, individuals were asked to evaluate the same graphics first displayed with poor quality sound, then with good quality sound (Nielsen, 2000). Users insisted that the graphics were better when viewed with the good quality sound.
On the other hand, not reducing frame size enough can result in another factor associated with decreased task satisfaction -- a lengthy download time (Johnson, 1998). Johnson and Kavanagh performed an evaluation of casual browsers and observed that only two out of ten individuals were actually willing to wait for 90 seconds while a video file downloaded to their computer (as cited in Johnson, 1998). The remaining individuals decided to interrupt the download. None of these users bothered to fully retrieve a video file with a download time of over three minutes. Clearly, this type of behavior might negatively affect learning if students refuse to wait until some of their materials are fully downloaded.
In contrast, Johnson found that adults with a clear task are more tolerant of retrieval delays than casual browsers (as cited in Johnson, 1998). Johnson and Kavanagh, however, cast some doubt on this finding when they noticed generally negative attitudes toward a lengthy download time in children, even in children deemed task-oriented (as cited in Johnson, 1998). Johnson (1998) defended his earlier findings by suggesting the possibility of a difference in adult and children's attitude toward retrieval delays. But he admitted that with so little research available in this area, it is dangerous to generalize beyond the experimental conditions of the investigations.
The new streaming media (video with sound), such as RealProducer (RealNetworks Incorporated, 2000) is designed to make video and sound available instantly without forcing the user to wait until the move or audio clip has fully loaded to the computer. This reduces the response time significantly, but it is still limited to the data delivery rates of the Internet connection (e.g., dial-up or cable modem).
Hecht and Klass (1999) conducted a case study in two research classes at Illinois State University to determine whether streaming audio and video technology could be used for primary instruction in off-campus classes. One class exhibited a host of technical problems such as blank screens, lack of audio, power outages, and server crashes. This course was a doctoral-level research design and statistics class divided into two sections, with 25 students from Thailand in one section and 14 distance education students from the United States (U.S.) in the other one.
A combination of Real Player (RealNetworks Incorporated, n. d.) and Multichat (MultiSoft Corporation, n. d.) was used to transmit audio and video, as well as synchronous communication between students and instructor. While technology problems for the group from Thailand appeared to have been related mostly to power outages and server crashes, some of the students from the U.S. experienced a host of network congestion problems which prevented smooth streaming of the class videos (Hecht & Klass, 1999).
On the other hand, a graduate-level qualitative research class exhibited relatively few technology glitches and most students were satisfied with the mode of delivery (Hecht & Klass, 1999). This was a course delivered simultaneously to 20 on-campus and 20 off-campus students using RealPlayer (RealNetworks Incorporated, n.d.). The off-campus students had the option to either join the class in real-time over the Internet or watch a video of the class at a later time, also over the Internet. According to the researchers, the reason this course exhibited fewer technical problems might have been due to the instructors experience with this type of technology (Hecht & Klass, 1999).
In general, due to the level of technology available on most home computers, some experts recommend limiting online video clips to less than one minute in length, or using print or audio narration together with pictures or slide shows (Kaplan, 1998; Kruse & Keil, 2000; Nielsen, 2000). Should, however, lengthy video presentations become necessary, it is best to segment the presentation into individual topics that can be accessed by the users in the order and at the time desired (Nielsen, 2000).
Kruse and Keil (2000) and Johnson (1998) further caution that video and audio presentations should not be used unless they add significant value. For example, many times video clips only contain "talking heads" and audio presentations consisting of the instructor merely reading the already printed material (Mason, 1997).
Web Browsers and Related Tools
Many students first become familiar with the WWW through Web-based instruction (Ratner, 1998); therefore, technology must be incorporated with the novice user in mind. Novice Web users need to be instructed on how to use a Web browser, a search engine, or how to install a plug-in. They also need to be shown how to recognize and deal with Internet connection problems (Ratner, 1998).
Web browsers and search engines. Web browser features are not always intuitive, and novices accessing Web-based instruction can exhibit decreased levels of comprehension because many do not know how to use a browser efficiently (Ratner, 1998). For example, Ratner (1998) evaluated the usability of Netscape Navigator by asking participants to perform certain tasks. Undergraduates and postgraduate students (N = 97) at the University of New Mexico (UNM) interacted with five features of the browser starting on the UNM home page. Only about one-third of the subjects had prior experiences with the World Wide Web. The results indicated that the participants' actual performance was low, although, perception of usability was very high. Even the more experienced Web users had problems with the two more difficult tasks - increasing the size of the display font to large and looking for Web sites related to "Psychology" (Ratner, 1998). Both novices and experts did not know that in order to change display features the "Preferences" option in the "Edit" menu has to be accessed. Furthermore, novices and experts alike could not distinguish between a search on the university Web site and one on the World Wide Web. Thus, when looking for Web sites relating to "Psychology", most participants searched the university site. Only a very few actually found the browser's search icon to access the search engines (e.g., Yahoo, AltaVista, Lycos, Google) which facilitate a WWW search (Ratner, 1998).
Other problems which prevented novice Web users from focusing on the tasks included computer failures, broken Internet connections, and unfamiliarity with technical jargon such as browser, Web address, navigate, hyperlink, and home page (Ratner, 1998). In general, novices had to have an experienced user nearby to assist them with their tasks because they did not feel confident using the WWW without help.
Plug-ins. In order to play video and/or sound clips, view special documents, or access proprietary databases and graphing tools, plug-ins are usually required (Kruse & Keil, 2000). Web browsers, generally, allow the download and installation of plug-ins to individual computers. Plug-ins act as a separate application and even open a second browser window. They are automatically used by the Web browser whenever necessary. Among popular plug-ins are Acrobat Reader (Adobe Systems Incorporated, n. d.) to present original documents, RealPlayer (RealNetworks Incorporated, n. d.) to accommodate streaming video and audio, or Shockwave Player (Macromedia Incorporated, n. d.) to allow for sophisticated animation, multi-user games, and sound.
Johnson and Kavanagh recommended furnishing links to the appropriate plug-in and providing users with directions on how to set it up on their computer (as cited in Johnson, 1998). The reasoning for this is that a search for the appropriate plug-in and for set-up directions might reduce the user frustration substantially, especially if the task is important to success in the course.
Computers, Connections, Internet Service Providers, and Servers
Occasionally, students encounter technical issues related to hardware and their own level of expertise. For relatively nontechnical students, the frustrations involved in solving technical problems may seem overwhelming (Bischoff, 2000). Students may become so discouraged with their inability to set up an Internet connection to the school's server, for example, that they simply give up entirely instead of reaching out for technical assistance. Technical issues can often be resolved by the instructor or by the school's technical staff. However, the students have to know that individuals are available to help them in case of technical problems.
Most technical problems occur at the beginning of the semester. Therefore, Fullmer-Umari (2000) suggested giving the students enough time to become familiar with the new environment prior to the start of instruction. This might ultimately contribute to a decrease in the attrition rate.
Communication Software for Web-Based Instruction
Communication software is designed both by for-profit companies (e.g., Netscape, Microsoft) and public universities (e.g., University of Washington). In Web-based instruction, asynchronous and synchronous communication tools are also often provided through professionally developed course management systems (e.g., WebCT, Black Board).
Asynchronous computer-mediated communication software. Web-based instruction using asynchronous communication permits users, often miles apart, to read and respond to messages. It utilizes electronic mail (e-mail) accounts or bulletin boards. While only registered users can access an electronic mail account, any individual belonging to a particular group (e.g., all students in a Web-based course) can access a bulletin board. Most asynchronous communication tools are quite easy to use, however, sometimes frustrations may arise due to Internet outages or messages getting lost in cyberspace (Burden & Davies, 1998).
Synchronous computer-mediated communication software. Synchronous computer communication, such as interactive chat or interactive computer video conferencing, requires students to interact at the same time (e.g., Kruse & Keil, 2000; Romiszowski, 1997). This in itself can become a problem, if students in other time zones or students who have other obligations at the time of the scheduled chat are required to attend (Paloff & Pratt, 1999).
Interactive chat allows users to write each other text-based messages while connected in a chat room. Chat room software is relatively simple to use as long as students possess adequate computer technology. Interactive chat, however, does require adherence to some protocol, such as " " and "over", to indicate when the speaker is finished (over) or when the speaker has more to say ( ). Without a protocol, chats can be confusing and chaotic. Contributions may end up out of sync as participants respond to comments made several lines earlier but were unable to post their response immediately due to a slow Internet connection speed (Kirby, 1999; Paloff & Pratt, 1999).
Interactive computer video conferencing provides the opportunity for students to see, hear, as well as interact with their instructor and each other. That means students can observe the instructor demonstrate the operation of tools and equipment, show skills that the students are required to emulate, conduct experiments, as well as do just about anything else they would normally do in a classroom-based course (Oliver, 1994). Although, interactive computer conferencing software is improving all the time, slow dial-up modems and microprocessors still severely limit the quality of picture and sound on home computers (Abrams & Haefner, 1998; Driscoll, 1998).
Hecht and Schoon (1998) conducted a case study in an off-campus research and statistics course in which the interactive computer conferencing software CUseeMe version 3 (CUseeMe Networks Incorporated, n. d.) was used to conduct class. Although the off-campus students used state-of-the-art school district computers with a high speed connection to the Internet, the first four months of the course were still plagued with non-transmitting audio, out-of-sync audio, and slow transmission speeds degrading the audio and video quality to a point where neither was coherent. While later sessions were running quite smoothly due to better technology support, minor software glitches, such as computers disconnecting from the conference or system crashes, continued to interrupt the presentations (Hecht & Schoon, 1998).
Wulf and Schinzel (1998) also experimented with interactive computer video conferencing by attempting to teach a course enrolling students from five German universities with a videoconferencing tool. Likewise, uncountable technical problems occurred which "challenged the patience and motivation of the participants" (p. 2). This occurred despite the fact that the course was presented at each university with adequate Internet access available (Wulf & Schinzel, 1998). In summation, the researchers blamed a "deficiently designed" tool and wondered whether the technological problems of this particular videoconferencing tool can ever be overcome.
The following elements of Web-based instruction are discussed in this section: (a) content-media fit, (b) class procedures and expectations, and (c) delivery of the content.
Moore and Kearsley (1996) claimed that the instructor's decision of what parts of the Web-based course to teach in print, audio, or video will have a significant impact on learning. Since different courses may require several media to effectively convey the content, media selection should be content-driven and not technology-driven (Carlson, Downs, Repman, & Clark, 1998).
In general, courses requiring mostly reading, writing, and solving computational problems can be entirely presented in print (Driscoll, 1998). One concern with this approach, however, is that a textual presentation alone will eventually lead to boredom and decreased motivation (Moore & Kearsley, 1996; Ritchie & Hoffman, 1997). Therefore, color, pictures, graphs, animation, video, or sound should be used to liven up a text-based course (Moore & Kearsley, 1996; Nielsen, 2000; Ritchie & Hoffman, 1997).
While some courses do not necessarily require video and sound, there are others that cannot do without them. In foreign language instruction, for example, using only documents on the Web together with computer mediated communication would preclude the students from hearing the language being spoken. Therefore, at least audio presentations must be provided in foreign language distance learning courses (Earp, 1997; Kuntz, 1998).
Other courses requiring more than just textual materials are the ones teaching psychomotor skills, such as inserting an intravenous drip or dissecting a frog. Actually, these courses require an environment where hands-on demonstrations and coaching can take place via sophisticated simulations or video presentations in addition to textual materials (Driscoll, 1998).
Class Procedures and Expectations
Every instructor should provide written guidelines detailing class procedures specific to the distance education course (Moore & Kearsley, 1996; Paloff & Pratt, 1999). Many education institutions already demand that various guidelines be provided to their students. For example, information necessary for both distance education and on-campus courses is generally a course description, the instructor's name, room and phone number, and office hours. A description of course objectives, required or recommended materials (e.g., textbooks, journals, computers, calculators), attendance policies, and evaluation procedures are also usually an institutional requirement. Furthermore, required field trips, tasks to be completed; assignment due dates, test dates, and other key dates (e.g., withdrawal, holidays, breaks) should be described for both distance and on-campus learners.
However, students in distance education courses also should be told what to do in case of technical problems, given detailed written instructions concerning assignments and subject matter, and provided with a thorough introduction to the structure of their course (Moore & Kearsley, 1996; Paloff & Pratt, 1999). The importance of the instructor assisting with technical problems and providing detailed written instructions was illustrated in a case study by Hara (1998) conducted with eight graduate students in a computer-assisted language learning course. Using interviews and review of course documents and assignments, Hara (1998) found that a lack of technology support and unclear directions from the instructor concerning the subject matter and assignments were a major source of on-going frustration for the students.
Delivery of the Content
More so than in face-to-face instruction, the way the subject matter is presented must entice students in Web-based courses to become interested and learn (Holmberg, 1995; Moore & Kearsley, 1996). While some distance instructors believe that textbooks are sufficient to facilitate learning, some experts dispute this belief (e.g., Holmberg, 1995; Moore & Kearsley, 1996). They feel that textbooks only give facts, but are not designed to guide or teach. Therefore, in addition to the textbook, distance instructors must develop their own instructional materials to simulate the presence of a human guide and teacher (Holmberg, 1995). Specifically, instructional materials should be written in clear, somewhat colloquial language to promote feelings of empathy, consideration, and personal relations between the instructor and the students (Holmberg, 1995; Moore & Kearsley, 1996).
There are many models describing how to develop instructional materials to facilitate learning. However, it is Robert Gagn's model that distance educators such as Holmberg (1995) and Moore and Kearsley (1996) point. It includes the following instructional events: (a) gaining attention; (b) specifying what is to be learned; (c) reminding learners of past knowledge; (d) presenting the content; (e) providing guidance; (f) requiring practice; (g) giving feedback; (i) enhancing retention and transfer; and (h) testing comprehension (Gagn, 1985). While instructional events should be used in all courses regardless of delivery mode, a concentrated effort must be made in a Web-based course to include them. The reason for this is that one or more events may be forgotten especially during Web-based course development because the instructor's focus is often heavily skewed toward technology aspects of the course (Downs, Carlson, Repman, & Clark, 1999).
With respect to gaining students' attention, lesson-related links to relevant Web pages or linking the course to real-life work might be one way to achieve this goal in Web-based instruction (Dick & Reiser, 1989; Ritchie & Hoffman, 1997). Furthermore, learners in both the classroom and the Web-based environment should be told the purpose of a lesson and what they have to know by the end of the instruction. By making clear learning outcomes, students will significantly improve their performance in many cases (Dick & Reiser, 1989).
For all learners to retain information in long-term memory, they must link new information with related information stored in long-term memory (Dick & Reiser, 1989; Gagn, 1985). Therefore, if prerequisite knowledge is readily available to students, the learning of new tasks is often much simpler. In the Web-based classroom this can be accomplished by providing online tutorials or lecture notes from earlier chapters (Ritchie & Hoffman, 1997).
After new knowledge has either been presented or students have been inspired to discover the knowledge, examples to illustrate the concepts should be provided, and the students must get the chance to apply the new information (Dick & Reiser, 1986). Finally, students should get feedback on how well they have learned a skill. In Web-based instruction, weekly online quizzes could be conducted or at least questions should be asked to determine how well students have learned the material (Ritchie & Hoffman, 1997). Feedback should be conducted in a timely, clear, and diplomatic manner from the teacher and peers (Holmberg, 1995; Moore & Kearsley, 1996).
Feedback is an important part of instruction because if students internalize a wrong idea or process, learning will have been compromised (Bischoff, 2000; Dick & Reiser, 1986; Mory 1996; Schwartz & White, 2000). According to Moore and Kearsley (1996) "lack of sufficient relevant feedback is one of the most common sources of dissatisfaction and frustration for distance learners" (p. 119).
The importance of feedback in Web-based courses was illustrated in a case study by Hara (1998) who found that technology problems, ambiguous instruction, and inadequate feedback were a major source of on-going frustration for the students. She concluded that in at least four students these frustrations may have inhibited their educational opportunity based on the facts that two students claimed that they would not take another distance course in the future, while two other students withdrew from the course. Stevenson, Sander, and Naylor (1996) also supported Hara's findings. They concluded that timely and encouraging feedback on assignments directly affected distance education students' general sense of satisfaction with the course.
Instructors must also provide remedial activities for the unsuccessful learners, as well as enrichment for those who are successful, if appropriate (Dick & Reiser, 1986). The remedial activities should be directly geared toward difficulties the students have with the original instruction. The enrichment activities, on the other hand, should extend the learner's knowledge of a topic, but should not be portrayed as punitive. In the Web-based environment, remediation may be achieved by referring students to online tutorials or tutors or simply back to the lesson, provided appropriate hyperlinks exist. Enrichment, on the other hand, may consist of nothing more than lesson-related links to relevant Web pages (Ritchie & Hoffman, 1997).
A discussion of learning styles was also deemed appropriate for the present study because the development of Web-based course materials should be based on knowledge of how human beings learn (James & Gardner, 1995). There exists no universally accepted definition for learning style; however, the way individuals react to their learning environment is an essential component (James & Gardner, 1995). For example, James and Blank (1993) defined learning style as "the complex manner in which, and conditions under which, learners most efficiently and most effectively perceive, process, store, and recall what they are attempting to learn" (p. 47).
In the current study, a learning style model presented by James and Gardner (1995) consisting of the perceptual, cognitive, and affective dimension was investigated to determine if it could be used in the design of Web-based instruction. The perceptual dimension identifies information that is to be integrated into an individual's brain through the senses. Subsequent processing of this information then occurs in the cognitive dimension. The affective dimension deals with that part of an individual's personality that relates to emotion.
James and Gardner (1995) presented several strategies to Web-based instructors to compensate for differences in learning styles among students. For example, to address the perceptual dimension, instructors might want to supplement printed materials with pictures or graphs, or provide opportunities for learners to interact with other learners. Several strategies are also available for addressing the cognitive dimension, such as structuring of content into small units, requiring active learner participation, supplying learners with a flowchart illustrating the major components of the course, and providing easy-to-use study guides. Lastly, to attend to the variations among students in the affective dimension, instructors may want to: (a) introduce themselves and the students in the course; (b) use an empathetic and informal communication style; (c) keep up consistent interaction with and among students; and (d) provide for personalized communication (Holmberg, 1995; James & Gardner, 1995; Moore & Kearsley, 1996).
Holmberg's (1995) theory of distance education suggests that good distance education resembles a guided didactic conversation, and that specific traits of this conversation facilitate learning. He claimed that there must be continuous interaction (conversation) between the learner and the supporting organization accomplished through interaction with the content (simulated conversation), as well as real conversation through written and/or telephone interaction with the instructor.
According to Holmberg (1983), the characteristics of guided didactic conversation are:
easily accessible presentations of study matter: clear somewhat colloquial language, in writing that is easily readable; moderate density of information;
explicit advice and suggestions to the student as to what to do and what to avoid, what to pay particular attention to and consider, with reasons provided;
invitation to an exchange of views, to questions, to judgments of what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected;
attempts to involve the student emotionally so that he or she takes a personal interest in the subject and its problems;
personal style including the use of the personal and possessive pronouns; and
demarcation of changes of themes, through explicit statements, typographical means or, in recorded spoken communications, through a change of speakers, e.g. male followed by female, or through pauses (p. 48-49).
Holmberg (1983) and others tested the united influence of these characteristics in three different studies on German, British, and Swedish distance education students between 1980 and 1982. Specifically, in these studies the course content was rewritten in the style of guided didactic conversation. Holmberg (1983) noted that the students taking part in the studies were positively disposed toward the treatment, and that in one of the studies the students in the experimental group did slightly better than the students in the control group. However, the results were not statistically significant. Nevertheless, Holmberg decided to advance his theory until it can be disproved. To this day, however, no one seemed to have found negative effects of guided didactic conversation on student motivation and learning. Despite the fact that Holmberg (1983) could not statistically corroborate his recommendations with regard to guided didactic conversation in distance education, it is felt in the present study that guided didactic conversation can be an effective component of Web-based instruction.
In most Web-based courses, e-mail, bulletin boards, and/or chat rooms facilitate communication. The crux of this type of communication is the nature of the messages that are exchanged between the instructor and students. Online communication is particularly prone to difficulties because it excludes body language and eye contact (Lewis, 2000; Paloff & Pratt, 1999). Messages can quickly take on a negative connotation. Conversation that might be perfectly acceptable in face-to-face situations can turn into insulting, blunt, and sarcastic exchanges in written communication if individuals are not aware of this phenomenon (Lewis, 2000; Paloff & Pratt, 1999). This type of communication is usually referred to as "flaming" (Lewis, 2000). To prevent "flaming", instructors should model online communication by being warm, responsive, inquisitive, tentative, empathetic, and considerate (Holmberg, 1995; Lewis, 2000; Moore & Kearsley, 1996; White, 2000b). Additionally, it is recommended that they introduce the use emoticons such as the smiley and winky, that is, :-) or ;-), to show how to convey intended humor or to tease in a nonthreatening way (Hiss, 2000; Lewis, 2000).
Stein (cited in Holmberg, 1995) found that the percentage of completers in one distance education course doubled when a "cold, subject-oriented man" was replaced by a tutor with a warm and friendly attitude. Holmberg (1995) also mentioned a study by Torstein Rekkedal in which a control group taught in an "impersonal way" was compared to an experimental group given more personal attention that included an introductory letter by the instructor, short turn-around times for assignments, and frequent telephone contact. The results produced a significant statistical difference between the two groups with respect to persistence in the course and the number of units completed.
Moore and Kearsley (1996) suggested other practices that may prevent "flaming" as well as provide a more responsive and considerate communication style:
keep messages brief and to the point;
quote relevant passages or summarize it for those who may have missed it if responding to a message;
ask permission before publishing private e-mail;
avoid typing everything in all caps because this is considered like shouting;
acknowledge every message so the sender knows that it was received;
avoid sarcasm and insults; and
use spaces to break up paragraphs to improve readability (p. 173).
Regardless of the type of distance education, one element that is always difficult to achieve is student involvement (Holmberg, 1995; Moore & Kearsley, 1996, White, 1999). Holmberg (1995) offered one possible explanation with regard to students' hesitancy to communicate with their instructor. He indicated that some students simply feel that their problem is not worthy of their instructor's attention, and, therefore, they are not willing to waste their teacher's time. Wulf and Schinzel (1998) recounted a student comment illustrating this concern. In their study, one student stated "that he did not want to disturb all the participants at the different locations by posing a question" (p. 4). Other factors that influence learner-instructor interaction as well as learner-learner interaction have been found to be the overall course design, nature of the assignments, quality of the feedback, and prior experiences with computer-mediated communication (Vrasidas & McIsaac, 1999).
Fortunately, no matter what factors might inhibit communication, it can be achieved as long as it is planned and encouraged by the instructor (Holmberg, 1995; White, 1999). Suggestions for promoting communication included: (a) presenting questions to students; (b) removing the name from a question sent to the instructor's e-mail address and then share the question on the bulletin board; or (c) asking different students to present items of interest to the class (e.g., technology, troubleshooting, subject matter, study, or Web resources tips) (Bischoff, 2000; Kirby, 1999; White, 2000a). Paulsen (1995) made one more recommendation by suggesting that instructors pose as students and ask questions in order to encourage discussions.
Further examination of the construct of interaction revealed that high "visibility" of the instructor also greatly contributes to a student's perception of course effectiveness (Bischoff, 2000). Bischoff (2000) came to this conclusion while conducting informal interviews with students and examining end-of-course student questionnaires. Consequently, she recommended that Web-based instructors establish "visibility" by sending on a daily basis one or more of the following types of messages to students:
content-related messages (lectures, handouts, clarification of points in the text, discussion questions, synthesis of discussion);
process-related messages (order of assignments, directions for sending assignments, description of the flow of the class, guidance when students become confused);
technical tips (software tips, information about how to send attachments, discussion of how to format notes, URLs);
protocol guidelines (code of conduct, plagiarism statement, netiquette, online tone); and
responses (answers to student questions, feedback on work submitted) (p. 60).
Activities similar to the ones designed to increase communication might also increase Web-based students' awareness of the presence of their instructor, as well as the instructor's active participation in all scheduled bulletin board discussions and online chats (Bischoff, 2000). Another approach that might enhance instructor "visibility" is the exchange of biographical sketches between students and instructor including their hopes and expectations for the course (Fullmer-Umari, 2000; Paloff & Pratt, 1999). However, just like for other postings, it is imperative that Web-based instructors respond to students within 24 hours (Kirby, 1999; Paloff & Pratt, 1999).
While Moore (1989) agreed and supported learner-content and learner-instructor interaction, he added a third form of interaction, which he labeled learner-learner interaction. This refers to interaction that can be carried out between one learner and other learners, alone or in a group, brought about by the advent of electronic mail, bulletin boards, and chat rooms (Moore, 1989). It has been deemed a valuable resource for learning, and, in some cases, has even been described as essential interaction (e.g., Moore, 1989; Phillips, Santoro, & Kuehn, 1988).
Apart from teaching group interaction itself, learner-learner interaction is also useful for creating an increased awareness of the presence of peers. For example, Bischoff (2000) felt that high student "visibility" might even contribute to a reduced sense of isolation prevalent in many distance education students. Several suggestions to promote learner-learner interaction were offered by Kirby (1999), such as requiring student teams to present different topics on the Web; asking students to work in teams on assignments and projects; or directing teams to critique each others work.
With regard to the success of team activities, Paloff and Pratt (1999) strongly suggested to describe in detail how to select a leader, the role of the leader, and how grades pertaining to team tasks are assigned to individual members. Additionally, Kirby (1999) advised not to schedule too many interaction activities since this may become overwhelming for the students and the instructor. In the case of the instructor, this may then lead to delayed and limited feedback.
Group size must also be taken into account if the learner-learner interaction is to be successful. Both in synchronous and asynchronous communication, large groups can be overwhelming for the participants and might lead to information overload. Paloff and Pratt (1999) suggest five to ten participants when conducting chat sessions or interactive computer video conferences. Asynchronous communication, on the other hand, can often facilitate the interaction between twenty or more participants, particularly in the case of individual or group presentations. However, in certain instances, a smaller group size is also advisable in asynchronous communication, specifically when students are required to post papers for discussion or are asked to collaborate on assignments.
In addition to meeting together on the bulletin board or in the chat room, course participants should also be encouraged to get together in other ways. For example, instructors could suggest to their students to exchange private e-mails in order to continue to discuss an assignment, to share information, or to study for tests.
Depending on the nature of the class, instructors could also require that students give each other useful feedback on their work, such as in English composition courses, or to collaborate with students from similar courses, such as in laboratory courses required in the study of biological, physical, or computer science. In general, courses in mathematics, the sciences, art, and music do not lend themselves well to the discussion format (Paloff & Pratt, 1999). However, instructors may still initiate discussions by requiring students to pose questions about the material to other students.